Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Today is Richard (pronounced Rick-ard) Wagner's (pronounced Vaag-ner) 200th Birthday. Wagner, sort of the classic rogue-as-brilliant-artist, was an anti-semite, a misogynist, and an all around bad guy, but he was also a musical and artistic genius, and I think a perfect example of how sometimes it is a worthwhile endeavor to separate works of art from their creator.
Wagner is best known for his operas. Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung, which being also partly based on the Old Norse Poetic Edda, shares some similarities to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings), Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Lohengrin, and others. He was an absolute master of what is known as Gesamtkunstwerk (one of those funky compound German words, which means "total work of art"), so said because he composed the music, the lyrics, the set, the blocking, the lighting, and essentially every creative or dramatic element that went into his productions.
My father was the stage manager of the Seattle Opera in the 80s. I had the immense pleasure to play both a Nibelung (an underground slave-dwarf type creature) and young Siegfried in a production of The Ring Cycle (it's four operas) when I was a boy. I could go on about the beauty of Wagner's stories for a while (themes included Buddhist concepts of reincarnation, in Parsifal, Arthurian legend, in Tristan und Isolde, and human ambition pitted against divine power, in The Ring).
Wagner is known for creating some of history's most memorable works of music. I'll leave you with two of them:
The Bridal Chorus, from Lohengrin, often butchered at weddings in modern times and sometimes referred to as Here Comes the Bride:
And The Ride of the Valkyries, probably the most famous movement in the history of opera: